Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant just signed what pro-choice advocates call the most restrictive abortion legislation in the United States yesterday (March 19), prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of gestation and imposing civil penalties for physicians who violate the law.
House Bill 1510, or the Gestational Age Act, goes into effect immediately, according to Reuters. It only permits abortions after 15 weeks if a fetus has "severe abnormalities" or if a pregnant person’s "major bodily functions" or life are threatened by pregnancy. The law does not include exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Mississippi has the largest percentage of Black residents of all 50 states at 37.7 percent (only Washington D.C. has more, with 47.7 percent). And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one out of three Black Mississippi residents live below the poverty line. Abortion restrictions place disproportionate hardships on low-income women, young women and women of color, who are more likely to seek this care later in their pregnancies due to barriers such as long waiting periods, lack of Medicaid funding and the need to travel long distance to access medical providers.
Many pro-choice advocates say that the bill targets the state’s only abortion provider, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization located in Mississippi’s predominantly Black capital, which has been battling against state regulations to remain open for years.
Less than an hour after Bryant signed the bill, The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of the clinic to block the law. In the complaint, the plaintiffs write that H.B. 1510 violated the precedent established in Roe v. Wade that prevents states from banning abortions before viability. That’s the date at which a fetus can survive on its own outside of the womb, usually seen as 20 weeks.
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, responded to Mississippi’s latest abortion restriction in a statement:
All women deserve access to safe and legal abortion care, no matter their zip code. Yet Mississippi politicians have shown once again that they will stop at nothing to deny women this fundamental right, targeting the state’s last remaining clinic in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court and decades of settled precedent…. Politicians are not above the rule of law, and we are confident this dangerous bill will be struck down like every similar attempt before it.
Katherine Klein, equality advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, told CBS News that the state’s latest abortion restriction is unconstitutional. "The 15-week marker has no bearing in science," Klein said. "It’s just completely unfounded and a court has never uphelf anything under the 20-week viability marker."
Advocacy groups cited similar attempts to restrict abortion before the 20-week mark in other states, including North Dakota’s six-week ban on abortions and Arkansas’ 12-week ban, both of which the Supreme Court refused to uphold.